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People of Myanmar, Language and Religion

Myanmar language, Tantric Buddhism, official language of Myanmar, Theravada Buddhism, Hinayana

Most of the linguistic groups of Myanmar are monosyllabic and polytonal, similar to those of Tibet and China. The official language of Myanmar is classified by linguists as Burmese, although government officials often call it the Myanmar language. It is spoken by the great majority of the population, including many of the non-Burman ethnic minorities. About 15 percent of the population speaks Shan and Karen. English is spoken among the educated, and the country contains a sizable number of speakers of Chinese.

The great majority of all the people of Myanmar are Buddhists. Most adhere to the Theravada school of Buddhism, as do Buddhists in neighboring Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Theravada (the Way of the Elders) Buddhism is sometimes called Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle) by contrast with Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) Buddhism, a later and more elaborate form that is practiced largely in China, Korea, and Japan. Theravada Buddhism is also quite different from the Tantric Buddhism that is found in Japan and Himalayan regions such as Tibet. Underlying the everyday practice of Buddhism is a well-developed culture of animism, the worship of spirits known as nat. This culture provides a basis for many nat festivals and for much of traditional medical practice. Muslims have also long formed a part of the population and there are a significant number of Christians (mostly Baptists) as well, particularly in the hill areas.

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